Seeking Dhasa; Finding Lhasa: Liminality and Narrative in the Tibetan Refugee Capital of Dharamsala


  • Harmony Siganporia Institute of Strategic Marketing and Communication, MICA, India



Tibet, Exile, Identity, Permanent Liminality, Narrative, Structuration


This article explores the role of narrative and narrativity in stabilising identity in an exile setting, read here as a way to avert what Bjørn Thomassen calls the ‘danger’ inherent to liminality. It does this by analysing the shape and visualscape of the little Himalayan town of Dharamsala, which serves as the secular and religious ‘capital’ of Tibetan exile. It attempts to decode the narratives which allow ‘Dhasa’, as Dharamsala is colloquially known, to cohere and correspond to its metonymically aspirational other – Lhasa, the capital of old Tibet. There can be read in this act of assonant naming the beginnings of a narrative geared towards generating nostalgia for a lost homeland, alluding to the possibility of its reclamation and restitution in exile. This article explores how this narrative is evidence of the fact that it is in indeterminacy; in liminality in other words, that the ‘structuration’ that Thomassen proposes, becomes possible at all. Even as it alludes to the impossibility of transplanting cultures whole, the article also examines closely the Foucauldian notion of ‘trace residue’ inherent to ruptures in prior epistemes, treating this idea as central to creating new-‘old’ orientations for this refugee community in exile. Following Thomassen and Szakolczai, liminality is here treated as a concept applicable to time as well as place; individuals as well as communities, and social ‘events’ or changes of immense magnitude. It is this notion of liminality that the article proposes has to be a central concept in any exploration of exile groups which have to live in the spaces between the shorn identity markers of the past – rooted as these must be in a lost homeland – and the present, where they must be iterated or man-ufactured anew.


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